This article was first published on Nairobi Business Monthly November 2016
Many apply foundation to hide black eyes. Others don shades to hide red eyes. Others fell on the stairs while others just ignore the whole vibe when it is brought up. Author Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor wrote in her book Dust (2013) about the four languages of Kenya: English, Kiswahili, Memory and Silence. We have embraced the former too quick. We refuse to talk about the ghosts that roam in our midst. The words accept and move on are engraved in our hearts. More will die and it will go unreported because of our selective outrage.
Gory images of chopped hands were all over digital media. The outrage was as instant as the middle class knack for tweeting and we saw some action being taken. Same script when musician Koffi Olomide kicked a dancer at the airport. The chap was arrested and deported without being tried, but the message was sent. You cannot assault a woman in public in our world of digital media.
But what about the world where people don’t really care about taking videos? What about that part of Kenya where the chief and pastors have to quell fires amongst couples day in day out? Should official action be a result of digital outrage? Can’t we just develop norms where women, primary victims in gender-based violence, are respected?
Kenya has really good laws that address this vice. The Constitution, Article 28 recognizes a person’s right to dignity and Article 29, recognizes the right not to be subjected to any form of violence from either public or private sources. The Penal Code’s Chapter 26 is on assault, which is basically used in charging perpetrators of gender-based violence.
However, these laws don’t seem to do much in terms of addressing gender based violence. There are two scenarios of this vice: Domestic violence and gender based violence at the work place. The latter is almost never reported because of fear of victimization and unemployment. So a lot of abuse goes unreported and even where there are out in the open, the victims are in too much fear that they apologise for provoking the boss. We saw this play out well when Koffi Olomide’s dancer recorded a video together with the singer to defend his action.
Few years ago, Alassane BA of Shelta Afrique was accused of assaulting staff, Karen Kandie. Upon his arrest, he invoked diplomatic immunity and the court held that he could not be tried in Kenya. This was among the few cases of gender-based violence at the work place that got reported. Unfortunately, Ms Kandie did not get justice.
When it comes to domestic violence, the challenge is that they are majorly crimes of passion. A common scenario during trial processes of perpetrators is where the complainant withdraws charges so as to secure the release of the accused due to various reasons. In some cases, the perpetrator might be the sole breadwinner and their stay in remand is not doing the family any good. Or maybe the victim has been coerced by the perpetrators relatives to forgive him. Or in cases where the accused was able to secure their release after paying cash bail, the complainant and accused who most likely still live together will attend court then go back to the same house, or even bed.
In 2015, the Protection against Domestic Violence Act was enacted to provide for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence. The drafters of law seem to have understood the challenge of prosecuting domestic violence from the protection clauses the Act contains. The act seems to have picked the geist of the Criminal Procedure Code Section 176, which promotes reconciliation in cases of common assault.
The Act is elaborate in its definition of violence and a relationship, which is meant to clear all ambiguities during interpretation. It also obligates the Police Service to have protection mechanisms for victims of the violence. Hence there is no shortage of laws to address this vice.
The silver bullet seems to be in society developing norms where women are respected and protected, where women are viewed and treated as human beings with dignity and not property. Norms where reconciliation between parties in a case of domestic violence is done with the best interests of the victim and not family image.
To get a lasting solution to this vice, religious and community leaders must come together so as to avoid creating conflicting norms. In the recent case of Jackline Mwende, the lady who lost both hands, she narrated how her religious leader encouraged her to stay in the marriage. The vow ‘Till death do us apart’ does not include death induced by one of the partners in the marriage. Hence in their teachings, religious leaders must come out strongly against this vice while working together with security agencies in creating effective protection mechanisms.
We should strongly condemn gender-based violence and unite to eradicate an environment where the vice thrives. While silence is golden, in this case it is a poison that is killing us slowly. Creating an environment where people can speak out should be our priority.
“Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes.” – George Orwell